Hermiston Police Chief Jason Edmiston got the call while he was on vacation in 2010.
His brother was at his house and found skeletons in the backyard. No flesh remaining on the small bones. No signs of who did it.
Something killed some of Edmiston’s koi.
Koi are common carp and the far larger cousin to the goldfish. The Chinese began breeding the carp for color variations more than 1,000 years ago. The Japanese caught on to breeding koi for color in the early 1800s. The fish are hardy, omnivorous and live 35-50 years, though sometimes much longer. Hanako, a Japanese koi, has the record for 226 years (1751–1977).
Edmiston and his wife bought their home in 2007, and koi caught Edmiston’s eye three years later. He extended the back deck and adapted the pond as place for the fish.
His brother’s bad news left him with a mystery. Solving it came that fall, when he was returning one evening from a football game with his son, about 12 then. The boy jumped out of the car at what he spied.
“It looked like there was a cat out on the front porch,” Edmiston recalled. “It wasn’t — it was a raccoon.”
About a week or so later, Edmiston, something of a night owl, saw the culprits in action — a mother raccoon in the pond plus her four kits perched on the edges.
Turned out a previous neighbor for years fed cat food to the raccoons.
Edmiston didn’t fight with the nursery of night bandits. Instead, he got a 150-gallon fish tank to bring the koi in the house. He set up the tank, filter and all, and added the fish.
“But I didn’t let the water acclimate,” he said. “And the fish died.”
Not one to give up, Edmiston in early 2011 heard a local business owner kept koi and needed to reduce his population. That guy’s outdoor pool was 20 feet wide, 60 feet long and 8 feet deep, Edmiston said, and “just filled with koi.”
The keeper of koi allowed Edmiston and a mutual friend to net several fish. Edmiston introduced them to their new home in his backyard pond, which he had deepened to around 42 inches, enough room to dive out of a predator’s reach.
The new koi were about 6-8 inches each. The fish grow fast and can reach more than a yard in length. Edmiston’s two largest now are about 2 feet long, most of the rest are in the 16-20 inch range. The surprise this year was finding four new koi, each just a few inches from nose to tail fin, bringing the population to 21.
The younger fish have probably been in the pond for a couple of years, he said, hiding among the rocks and now are grown big enough to come out.
Edmiston’s koi display an array of color and patterns, from shimmering gold to pale bodies with red splotches to a near black fish with fiery orange flickering on its wispy winglike fins. Watching them, the career cop said, is relaxing.
“Their life is simple,” he said. “So it’s simple to just sit back and observe them and turn everything else off.”
Other police in the department have their stress relief outlets. A couple of officers train for obstacle course races, some are serious hockey fans. One, Chris McMahon, is on the Columbia River fishing about every chance he can get.
Edmiston was the lieutenant for five years under the previous police chief, meaning he was on call 24 hours a day every day.
“I got burned out finally,” he said.
When he became chief in 2011, he shouldered the work of planting a new culture in the department of transparency and community. He continues to push that plow.
“I would like to think the overwhelming majority of people in this profession are in it for caretaking of sorts, community caretaking,” he said.
The notion extends to the small dogs he and his wife own — one a Yorkshire terrier and poodle mix and the other a Chinese Crested Powderpuff. Several of the men and woman at the Hermiston Police Department care for horses or sheep or the like. Yet the koi carry another a caveat for the police chief.
“It’s ironic, really. The longer you’re at this profession, the more you become in a fish bowl,” he said. “It’s something I’m conscious of, and I try to get out more.”
He said his core group of friends — some not in law enforcement — helps him realize the world is more than what police see. Still, getting out comes with the inevitable downside that someone always wants to talk shop.
But the koi don’t talk. They swim. They eat. They splash.
“All they are is carp,” Edmiston said. “But they’re pretty fun.”